Côtes du Roussillon Villages, Rivesaltes and Maury
By Richard James
This Guide was last updated on 22 April 2010
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Vineyards in sight of the omnipresent Mont Canigou, marking the start of the Pyrenean range. © Mick Rock/Cephas.
Some of the best wines in the Roussillon – or Eastern Pyrenees, the region’s official name, or French/northern Catalonia as preferred by some – are found in its north western corner just south of the Corbières hills, in a beautiful area known as the Fenouillèdes or Agly Valley. Its striking terrain is characterised by an elevated valley landscape flanked with rocky hillside vineyards running roughly from Tautavel to Caudiès and the most famous wine village, Maury in the middle. Historically, this area marks the former border between the old Catalan kingdom and Occitan country, later fought over for centuries by kings of France, Aragon and Spain. This cultural dimension is arguably reflected in the wines made here, as well as the predominantly Spanish/Mediterranean varieties planted.
The flatter vineyard land around and north of Perpignan was once the engine room of Vins Doux Naturels production, especially Muscat de Rivesaltes, although producers are adapting to changing markets. Following the River Têt west of Perpignan, you pass through the wine villages of Le Soler, Pézilla, olive oil town Millas and eventually Prades. The central part of Roussillon is known as the Aspres (dry land in Catalan); beyond here to the west stands the omnipresent bewitching Canigou Mountain, set slightly apart from, but definitely marking the beginning of the Pyrenees. The locals say their region is the only one in France where by around March, you can ski and go to the beach on the same day, although the sea will be cold!
This micro-region is situated in the Pyrénées-Orientales department at the eastern end of the Pyrenees Mountains. The vineyards are bordered by three specific ranges, the Corbières to the north, Mont Canigou (2800m) to the west and Les Albères to the south on the Spanish border. Vines, olives and fruit trees are grown almost side by side along the Tech River valley. The gravelly, stony terrain, where many (but certainly not all) of the better wines are made, consists of black and brown schist soils with sandy granite and clay/limestone slopes.
It is one of the sunniest areas in France with high summer temperatures often exceeding 30°C, and little rainfall that usually falls as violent storms risking damage to the vineyards. The warm summer winds accelerate the ripening process, whereas in winter these wild winds can make the temperature drop drastically, yet keep the rain away.
By road the most direct route from Paris takes just under eight hours using motorways nearly all the way: A10, A71, then right to the end of the A75, which crosses the river Tarn on the tallest road bridge in the world, the spectacular Millau Viaduct, completing the journey on the A9 (the A75 and A9 will finally join together in 2010), exit 41. At Perpignan the N116 heads westwards through the vineyards. By train, the TGV runs direct to Perpignan and the journey time from Paris is around four hours 30 minutes. There are small international airports at Perpignan and Carcassonne or you can drive south for 2-3 hours from the larger Toulouse airport, or north from Girona or Barcelona in Spain.
Conseil Interprofessional des Vins du Roussillon,
19 Avenue de Grande-Bretagne, 66000 Perpignan
Association pour la promotion des Vins du Fenouillèdes et du Peyrepertuse
1 rue du Docteur Pougault, 66460 Maury
Perpignan Tourist Office,
Palais des Congrès, Place Armand Lanoux, BP 40215, 66002 Perpignan
Rivesaltes Tourist Office,
Avenue Ledru-Rolin, 66600 Rivesaltes
Tel: 04 68 64 04 04 Fax: 04 68 64 56 17
Languedoc-Roussillon General Tourist Information
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